Blasting and blessing: a Lemsip edition

It’s Friday. High-spirited young men with a gift for sponteneous song have been sent by Thames Water to excavate the pavements outside our house. Meanwhile, no amount of coffee, medication or indeed George Osborne-induced indignation seems likely to liberate me from the constraints of a cold that is, as you may soon have cause to observe, acting as noticeably upon my ability to tap out words in re-cog-nis-able En-glish as it is on my sinuses, lymph nodes and generalised will to remain upright. So, well, Palladio can wait. For today, this is will have to do.

The laziest bit of public art commissioning in living memory. Having complained about it when it seemed only likely to happen, the defects of this project are no more venial on account of their sheer predictability. Of course the availability of sponsorship money from News International should surprise no one, as One and Other is, ultimately — the hallowed all-old rhetoric notwithstanding (says the artist: ‘My project is about trying to democratise this space of privilege, idealisation and control’, although if he hadn’t said it, everyone would have assumed he had anyway) — little more than a machine for generating outrage — and where there’s outrage, there’s publicity, right? Personally, I’d rather have spent the money on a pension for some ex-RBS hate-figure, if only because I truly don’t believe that there’s a banker on earth who’s as cynical as our Mr Gormley.

A good decision. Well, clearly there was something a bit manipulative in the fact that it coincides with this, which may or may not be a good decision — I’ll leave that for people who know more about it all than I do. But these are lean times, as we’re learning, and so we’ll take our moments of admiration for the Obama administration where we can find them.

Most of the human race, commentariat included, for treating this whole nonsense with the contempt it so lavishly deserves. Given the state of the world at present, who on earth could possibly be ‘scared’ by the sight of a mildly disabled television presenter? As this not exactly one of Britain’s more televisually literate households, my four year old son shares my absolute ignorance regarding CBeebies, its staffage and relative scariness. He’s watched his fair share of BBC News 24, though. So although he’s occasionally had cause to wonder how it is that houses in Gaza get ‘broken’, why children in refugee camps ‘don’t wear very good clothes’, or why it is that people make bombs — not the easiest question to answer, incidentally, half way though improvising a risotto in a cat-garnished kitchen — I can’t say he’s ever shown the faintest curiosity about e.g. Gary O’Donoghue’s minor facial asymmetries, let alone the rather dashing Frank Gardner‘s jaunty — and, doubtless, intensely annoying to Islamist terrorists everywhere, which surely is half the point — outings with callipers and walking frame. And for once, it seems, most people are as robustly sensible on this point as a normal, happy four year old.

My new all-time favourite book, Isole abbandonate della laguna venziana (The abandoned islands of the Venetian lagoon) by Giorgio and Maurizio Crovato, reprinted by the San Marco Press in 2008. As the title implies, this is an elegant if colocynthic account of miscellaneously neglected plague islands, ex-Austrian munition works and sandbanks preserving little more of their early medieval religious origins than the dialect-mangled ruins of a half-forgotten name, all recounted in sober scholarly text and illustrated some of the most atmospheric, evocative black-and-white photographs imaginable — and I write that as someone with a very good book of Edwin Smith photographs currently on my desk. Absolute, utter enchantment — although, for the non-Whigs amongst us, simultaneously a reminder that just as La Serenissima once enjoyed a more natural, organic and productive relationship with her surrounding environment than she does at present, there is absolutely no reason on earth that she shouldn’t, eventually, come to do so again.

And finally,

The softening of mental resolution induced by this cold, which I now notice has compelled me to produce three ‘blesses’ to one ‘blast’. Shocking, eh? Frankly, at the moment I’m too sleepy and stupid to mind much about anything. History does, however, suggest that our normal, bad-tempered and easily-irritable service will be back in due course ….



Filed under blasting & blessing

6 responses to “Blasting and blessing: a Lemsip edition

  1. JL

    I would also take a pension, if any are on offer. Don’t let my lack of UK citizenship or residency be a barrier. If it would help my chances of getting one, I’d be happy to stand on a plinth.

    I’m not familiar with Gormley, but looking at the “about the artist” page, he’s evidently devoted himself to “an exploration of the body as a place of memory.” I’m not sure I can quite express how reading that phrase makes me feel. All that time spent reading Frances Yates, Maurice Halbwachs, and Pierre Nora, and this is what “memory” comes to in the end. I do like how he ties it together with “the body”–very efficient to make a vague gesture toward two trends of academic thought in the past few decades at once like that. I can only imagine Foucault would be embarrassed by it, let alone Merleau-Ponty.

    Along with Palladio, I wouldn’t mind hearing more about the Venetian book when you’re well, if you’re inclined. I wouldn’t say it’s my new all-time favorite, but I’ve been greatly enjoying the catalog for the exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967 – 1975, and not only for the nostalgia-inducing photographs of the 1970’s (the cover shot of Lynda Benglis, in fact, was taken at the local university’s fine arts center virtually just down the street from my home when I was a child.) I was very intrigued by the exhibition when it happened (I didn’t see it), and the catalog doesn’t disappoint (much): it’s not only evocative of the time but has a historiographic ambition one generally doesn’t find in the usual (often celebratory) exhibition catalog. There’s a lot more to be said about it (and perhaps I’ll say some of it), but to be brief, it really opens up the picture of American art of the ’60’s and ’70’s, or rather, restores some of what was once there. Good stuff, even if all the art isn’t (though a lot of it is.)

    Take care and get well soon.

  2. I’d be tempted to describe Gormley as one of the most monotonously one-trick ponies ever to amble lamely before the Arts Council’s funding committees, were he not so insistent on his own variousness. Not only has he pursued the “exploration of the body as a place of memory and transformation” in the way you found so, err, striking, but he’s apparently also “expanded his study to explore the concept of the collective body and the relationship between self and other” — all this, in addition to “trying to democratise [spaces] of privilege, idealisation and control” — and yet, in a recent Daily Telegraph interview, he describes his work as “fun” — while at the same time getting in miscellaneous digs at Mrs Thatcher, “object-fetishisation”, “the market” and of course his critics. A man of many parts, then — reassuringly predictable parts, every last one of them. Pity it all translates into either small, vaguely humaniod lumps of clay or bigger yet broadly similar lumps of cast metal.

    The critics, incidentally, apparently dislike Gormley’s work because of his Ampleforth College / Trinity College, Cambridge / generally middle class [in the UK sense] background. Mr Gormley, however, has been awarded an OBE, the Turner Prize, public commissions galore, monographic exhibitions at the Hayward and elsewhere, and is represented by White Cube, so obviously he’s bravely struggling on, critical prejudice notwithstanding.

    What would Merleau-Ponty make of it? Alas, JL, I have not yet consumed quite enough pseudoephedrine hydrochloride today for the answer to resolve itself. Stay tuned. As for Foucault, however, one imagines that he might have flashed a knowing smile in the general direction of Mr Gormley’s ongoing fascination with the physically constraining, psychosexually challenging business of creating full-body life-casts of himself, again and again and again. “Fun”, eh? Well, at least someone’s enjoying this stuff …

    More to the point, though, JL, how can you be coaxed into writing a lengthier account of High Times, Hard Times? What you’ve written actually just makes me want to read more — something which would doubtless make a wholesome change from my current obsession with staring at gloomy photos of crumbling, sea-water corroded Istrian marble!

    Right, time for another cough sweet … more later, perhaps.

  3. Bunny, I permit you to post essays of fewer than four thousand words. I will think no less of you if you do. Just thought I would say so. Feel better.

    JL, thanks for dinner the other day. I won’t hold the current state of my stomach against you. (It likely has gone off thanks to some virus-laden student.)

  4. ETat

    For some reason (well, it’s February, still. With all the consequences) my blogroll brings one cold-animated post after another. Not that it affected your delightfully-irritated style.
    Wish you speedy recovery.

    Not all your blesses are what I would consider such; in particular the one about permission (on practice, instruction) to televise coffins of our killed in action troupes. Pseudo-pacifist lefty propaganda, nothing else. As well as “decision to end war in Iraq” – funny, how content of the article you linked doesn’t support the headline. A wishful thinking on BBC part – actually, on all media’s part.
    Another one, about a cripple TV host. I can tell you that much -if I was a 5yo who had never seen an invalid, I would be frightened. In fact, I’d think a 5yo who doesn’t notice a mutilated limb is unusually unperceptive, at the very least. May I ask, what do you tell your son when he asks about Gaza houses, “broken into”? Hope you told him the truth, namely: that those are the houses of terrorists who were engaged into bombarding innocent Israeli towns where live little children like himself, and that Israeli Army is one of the very few armies on Earth that conduct its operations against hostile enemy with over-exaggerated concern for civilian life.

    The book of photographs you described sounds mouth-watering; if summary @Amazon is right, I share the author’s thought about architecture’s root in place and time. The further train of thought and conclusions might differ from yours, though. Venezia and her isles is very, very tempting, too. I came across a photographer from Brescia (sp?), who took gorgeous photos at carnivale (my last post). The bluish-gray air of Venice is sipping through.

    Get well, Bunny!

  5. ETat, you are nothing if not reliably forthright — a good thing, surely. And who knows? Perhaps one of these mornings I’ll bounce out of bed, wiggle my toes, and think ‘Yes, I know what I want to do today — I want to engage in a huge, sprawling online scrap regarding the reliability of the BBC’s journalism, the proprieties of war photography, the recent history and probable future of the Middle East, sensible strategies for dealing with terrorism, the distinction between noticing something and thinking it matters —and, of course, whether my son counts as “unusually unperceptive” — that would be a good use for the day ahead.’

    Today, though, ETat, is not that day. Thanks, however, for taking the time both to read and to comment, and of course for your kind wishes.

    As for you, Franklin, although I’m unconvinced that those fleeting and sketchy 4,000-word posts don’t in themselves represent a distressing slippage of standards — anyone would think there were other demands upon my time or something these days, although alternative explanations might include the phrases ‘staggeringly disorganised’ and ‘actually pretty darned lazy’ — well, your permissive declaration was, nonetheless, very welcome. At least one of us doesn’t think less of me for tapping out any old under-considered nonsense, sticking in a few links and then trying to the result off as a genuine post …

    Oh well, not all of us can post almost daily, start truly fascinating if occasionally maddening discussions, get on with everyday life and still find the time to draw, too — although some people obviously can! Thanks, in any event, for your kind wishes. Actually, I think I am feeling better.

  6. ETat

    I, too, find no point in engaging in online scrap – with my notorious forthrightness they tend to be rather short.
    Glad you feel better.